Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

On-field product falls victim to debt

Blue to again spend less than foes on football ops

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The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will once again be spending less on football operations than most of the CFL.

A fear concerning the Bombers getting in over their heads with debt resulting in a negative effect on the football product could prove accurate in the short term.

The Bombers, one might argue, are going to be house-poor for a while. They're an underfunded organization now on the hook for close to $100 million and they haven't begun to enjoy the fruits of the predicted new revenue streams.

Something has to give and it appears it will continue to be football operations.

As of Friday, the Bombers had hired just seven coaches including head man Tim Burke. By contrast, the Montreal Alouettes have a coaching staff of 12.

Rumour has it, the Bombers will add one more coach prior to training camp, but at eight, they would still be alone at the bottom of the league.

Every other team in the league already has at least nine coaches.

Last season, the Bombers admitted to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars less than the rest of the CFL on football operations.

"We spend $300,000 less, on average, than the rest of the league on football operations," Bombers CEO Garth Buchko told the Free Press late in the 2012 season. "Still, $300,000 is a lot of money. It's never been about the Winnipeg Football Club being cheap. It's not that.

"We were in the Grey Cup (in 2011) with the same number of coaches that we started with. We were successful with eight coaches. But in saying that, we're here to win championships and build a first-class organization. How much money do we need to spend to do that? Because we want to build an identity; we want to be seen in the CFL like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, B.C. Lions and Montreal Alouettes."

The Bombers spent $10 million on upgrades to the new stadium in the last year in an effort to enhance fan experience.

"These are additions that would have been made in future years," Buchko said in a late-December press release, adding the upgrades will provide "better cost certainty, improves the stadium function, and will generate additional revenue."

The entire purpose of the new stadium, from a business perspective, is to generate new revenues that will allow the football club to operate as a modern entity and spend on the same level as its competitors.

Money doesn't always equate to championships, but if the Bombers are going to operate on the cheap it makes things more difficult for GM Joe Mack and Burke.

The Bombers let go veteran personnel man Ross Hodgkinson in the off-season and replaced him by promoting Kyle Walters to the assistant GM's chair. Winnipeg replaced defensive co-ordinator Chip Garber with Casey Creehan and brought in Craig Dickenson to take over from Walters as special teams coach.

Other than that, it has been status quo in terms of football-operations spending.

Lots of folks buy a new house and then take some time to add the furnishings. It's life under a budget.

In time, a household's income increases and the vacations and restaurant dinners resume. One can hope that's what will take place for the Bombers. A year or two of scrimping and then a push to be on the level with the rest of the league in football spending.

The Bombers have taken on an ambitious debt load to build a state-of-the-art stadium. Hopefully that debt doesn't crush the football team playing in it. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 23, 2013 C5

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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